I have been involved in various aspects of the ‘music industries’ for the past 15 years; when I started in 2002, there were changes afoot in relation to the concept of the traditional record ‘industry’, due to new trends in technology. These technological changes had an effect on the three distinct segments that both Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2002) and Wikstrom (2013) see as making up the ‘music industries’ as a whole – namely production, distribution & consumption. At that time (around 2002) home studios, file sharing and a decline in sales meant many ‘industry professionals’ were left scrambling to makes sense of a landscape which had been previously clearly defined as led by major labels (as highlighted by Anderson, Dubber & Martin (2013). It was these majors, after all, who constituted the mainstream record industry and the general rules of conduct that accompanied it, both economically and culturally. With the collapse of many major labels and distributors, leading to the eventual collapse of major music retail outlets, the rules had been dashed. Traditional ideas of record ‘deals’, where artists were ‘signed’ on their potential, and distinct departments / people acting as ‘gatekeepers’ were becoming antiquated. A new era was beginning to take shape, leaving some marooned and others experiencing a new creative freedom.
I became one of ‘The Independents’ (Leadbetter, C. & Oakley, K., 1999) within the wider ‘independent music industry’, with a portable office (a laptop), and a ‘jack of all trades’ attitude. Small independent labels popped up in Birmingham, needing marketing, PR and administrators in a freelance capacity. The emphasis was now less on producers and labels getting their artists signed, and more on getting the music direct to audience, and there was no longer a rulebook on how best to do this. The ‘good work’ that Hesmondhalgh describes (2002) for me has been creating events, campaigns and music (I’ve also dabble in production) that makes a cultural difference (in antithesis to an ever-pervasive and increasingly narrower idea of ‘mainstream popular music’) and an ongoing mission to get musicians and audiences to understand the irrelevance of the terms ‘signed’ and ‘unsigned’; to move on from the traditional ‘record deal’ and ‘rock / pop star’ mentality. Within that mix of ‘good work’ have been some experiences of ‘bad work’. Impact of work can be difficult to measure in these industries, for example PR, band management, tour management, event promotion and marketing all bled into each other in my experience and time and work expended can take months, even years to bear any ‘fruit’. This merging of previously distinct areas can also mean heavy work loads for little return in the short term, and a battle between expectations and results. Sporadic financial reward left me doing a mixture of creatively rewarding personal and collaborative projects alongside part time work for other small companies, sometimes be more monotonous in nature. The insecure nature of work balance and financial reward, with little or no (moral) support, operating as a ‘lone wolf’ often proved demoralising.
The music industries operating today as discursive practices led by, and affecting, change in the socio-economic landscape of Birmingham are overlapping, difficult to define and relate to many other industries. My evolution within them has adapted according to demand and inclination and has been reliant on adapting and collaborations, with work roles often overlapping and difficult to define.